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On the Montessori Journey: When One Teaches, Two Learn (Part II)

April 24, 2017

“I Can Do It Myself” – The Emergence of Self-Sufficiency and Confidence

By late Winter of their last year at the Suzuki School, 5 or 6 year olds choose their work completely independently, know what their favorite subject areas are, and are eager to help new students joining our class. But what is the role of a 3 to 4 year old in this room?  It can be difficult for a parent to see how a child of only 3 can find her way through the lessons of adolescence, and blossom into a confident young mind.  The Suzuki School is open to observation at every level using double sided glass windows that offer a full view into the classroom from the hallway without being noticed. Parents who take advantage of this initially watch filled with anxiety that their child will feel scared or not know what to do without their help, but are often astonished by how patient the older children are with the younger ones. They step up and jump in to help a younger child who is struggling. They are quick to console a child who is upset, asking them, “what’s wrong,” and you may even see them go get a friend a tissue. Not only that, but they’re eager to demonstrate the lessons they have spent years practicing, beaming with the pride as another child watches them.

But before they can do this, they have to master the individual they will become. At this stage, lessons in Practical Life lead into other areas. The more time the child spends in Practical Life and Sensorial, building up their ability to concentrate and follow complicated directions, the better they are able to concentrate on complex Math and Language lessons later on. The younger child sees the older children completing longer, sequenced lessons and is anxious to complete her own so she may do the same one day!

Towards the end of her first year and into her second, Alice—whose name has been changed for this publication—began venturing out more and more on her own. She gravitated towards the longer Practical Life lessons such as Hand Washing, Washing Dishes, and Bathing a Baby. These lessons have upwards of 20 steps and require a lot of attention to detail. These complex Practical Life lessons are integral in developing the child’s ability to follow detailed directions. We watched as Alice’s independence blossomed; she was now able to complete lessons that sometimes took 30-35 minutes, which is quite the feat for a 3 ½ year old! She learned how to collect all the materials she needed. For Dish Washing this includes filling pitchers with water, transporting them to her work station, taking care to wash all the dishes with soap and a sponge, rinsing them in cold water, placing the dishes in the drying rack, and then carefully pouring out all the water at the end of the lesson, making sure to dry each bucket, and finally replacing the lesson on the shelf exactly as she found it. Of course there were many spills as she learned over the months to slow down her movements and take her time pouring the water to and from pitchers to buckets. These spills often prolong the lesson even further as the child must then mop up the mess! She would occasionally become side-tracked and engage in chats with friends, leaving her work unattended for minutes at a time. (A far cry from the shy girl who entered the room a few short months prior!) But as the months wore on, these things happened less and less and she went from asking teachers to show her a lesson to “I can do it myself.”

Alice continued to enjoy helping with other Practical Life lessons as well; helping to fold cloths after laundry day at school and load the dishwasher.  These are all prepared lessons in the classroom. The Practical Life lessons are attractive to the child because they are things they see Mom or Dad do at home, which makes them very enticing. They have many sequenced steps and help the child develop a sense of care of self, responsibility, and care of the environment. However, she also gradually became more interested in numbers and letters. She began to sit longer for Math lessons and quickly started absorbing the numerals 1-10 and being able to count bead bars or spindles and match quantities with their numerals. She started practicing tracing Sandpaper Letters more often and matching them with their initial sound objects. She was able to sit working with these lessons for long periods of time due to her extensive work with longer Practical Life lessons, which taught her the patience and focus she would need for these lessons inherently.

She was beginning to flourish in Math and Language because she was granted the time and freedom she needed her first and second years to explore the lessons in the Practical Life and Sensorial areas of the classroom. Alice diligently practiced writing her numbers 1-10 and matching them with manipulatives. She was beginning to understand the concept of quantities and numerals, as well as recognizing letter sounds in words.

Alice was also watching as her older friends that she loved to work with start to work on longer lessons in Language, such as putting together letter sounds and building words with the Moveable Alphabet. In Math they were working on Addition and Multiplication with the Montessori Bead Bars and putting together booklets of their work. While Alice’s confidence was undoubtedly growing now that she was beginning to master lessons, observing her older friends embark on these challenging works provided powerful motivation for her to practice the intermediate exercises that must be practiced many times before she began the more advanced ones. She was showing interest in helping younger friends in the classroom do Practical Life work the “right” way, but still had many things she was anxious to accomplish!

Alice is now almost 5 years old and getting ready to graduate. Nowadays, she spends entire work cycles—which can sometimes be up to 3 hours—working on lessons such as the Bank Game in Math. She brings number cards 1-1000 to a rug and then does the same with their matching quantities before adding numbers in the 1000’s together and recording her work. In Language, she is confident with her letter sounds and practices blending them together to read. What has been even more remarkable than the growth of her academic work, however, has been the total transformation of her self confidence, work habits, and leadership skills—something immediately evident was what occurred just a few weeks ago, when a student from PrePrimary came to visit. You can find out more, including what happened, in the conclusion of this series of articles!


“I Can Do It Myself” – The Emergence of Self-Sufficiency and Confidence, By Casey Hardigan

Casey Hardigan is a Teacher at the Ponce City Market location. Before joining the Suzuki School team Ms. Casey worked with children with special needs in a public elementary school in Massachusetts. She is a dedicated teacher with a passion for constantly learning and growing in her profession. She brings her enthusiasm for education into the classroom and inspires a love of learning in the children.

Ms. Casey joined the Suzuki School in January 2013. Casey was first interested in the Suzuki School because she played the violin for 10 years growing up and was taught using the Suzuki Method. Once working at the school, she fell in love with the Montessori system of education because she loves how this method does not only focus on Math or Language. While the children learn these concepts seamlessly through the carefully thought out lessons, the Montessori method provides an emphasis on helping to develop the whole child. The children learn grace and courtesy lessons such as The Soft Voice and Practical Life activities like Washing Dishes. The breadth of lessons in Montessori help to guide the child into becoming a responsible, capable, kind-hearted human being who is ready to take on the world and make it a better place.

Originally from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Ms. Casey moved to Atlanta in 2013. She comes from a large family with 3 brothers and 2 sisters. She enjoys spending time reading or outside with her rescue dog and family.

A graduate of The University of New Hampshire with a Bachelor’s Degree in English, Ms. Casey has also completed training with the Pan American Montessori Society at Kennesaw State University and is a Certified Montessori Teacher.

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